Last week, a young man from Anambra State committed suicide. Alex Chukwuezie, 22, completed his senior secondary school two years ago but could not get any job. He complained to some people recently that life was becoming miserable for him. According to media reports, he tried his hands at business. But things remained tough. When he could no longer bear what life was throwing at him, he hanged himself on a mango tree. Until his death, Chukwuezie was an active youth leader in his ward in Ihiala Local Government Area of the state.
This young man followed in the footsteps of many others who decided to terminate their lives to escape the existential realities of life in Nigeria. Last year, for instance, one Ahmed, said to be in his 20s, reportedly set himself ablaze in the Omole Phase 1 area of Lagos. Hardship was purportedly the main cause.
Perhaps, this type of report was partly what engendered the recent ranking of Nigeria as the sixth most miserable country in the world by Steve Hanke, an economist from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, United States. In the Misery Index 2018, Hanke noted that the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria contributed largely to its poor showing in the rankings. He said that Misery Index was calculated using such indices as unemployment, inflation and the rates banks charge on loans. Out of the 95 countries surveyed, the least miserable countries, according to Hanke, are Thailand and Hungary, which ranked 95th and 94th, respectively. Venezuela is adjudged the most miserable country in the world. It is closely followed by Zimbabwe.
One common denominator in these miserable countries is economic problems. Inflation rate in Venezuela, for instance, is said to be over 6,000 per cent. In Nigeria, the rate of unemployment more than doubled from 10.4 per cent in January 2016 to 23.1 per cent as at July 2018. Inflation rate is as high as 12 per cent.
The African Development Bank also estimates that 80 per cent of Nigerians live below the United Nations poverty threshold of $2 per day. The number of newly unemployed rose from 8.03 million in 2015 to 15.99 million by the third quarter of 2017. In 2016, the country went into a recession with a negative 1.6 per cent growth rate. Although the growth rate slightly increased to 2 per cent in 2018, the International Monetary Fund forecasts a miserable annual average growth rate of about 1.9 per cent from 2019 to 2023.
To make matters worse, Nigeria currently has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. According to a report by the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organisation in the United States, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute. This is the highest number in the world. The survey showed that, at the end of May 2018, Nigeria had an estimated 87 million people in extreme poverty.
Even some people you think are relatively comfortable may be dying in silence. Last year, the head of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Kogi State Specialist Hospital, Lokoja, Dr. Chukwudibe Rosemary, suddenly died in agony. Dr. Rosemary and many others were owed arrears of salaries. Her case was so bad that she could not even pay for some of the tests that were to be run on her.
The worrisome thing now is that Nigeria ranks low in almost every human development index. Last week, the Global Report on Food Crisis 2019, indicated that no fewer than 113 million people experienced high levels of food insecurity in the world in 2018. Eight countries reportedly constituted almost two-thirds of those facing acute hunger. They are Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Large segments of populations in most of these countries reportedly risk falling into emergency levels of acute food insecurity.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently told us that the days ahead would be tough. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, last week, gave some hope. He said, in the past three years, Nigeria had implemented more than 140 reforms to make doing business in Nigeria easier. This year, the Buhari government has reportedly set a goal to move Nigeria into the top 100 on the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Index. Tall ambition you may say.
As we await Osinbajo and his economic team, it is pertinent to point out that economic misery begets political and social miseries. It may interest the Prof to know that part of the problem is the humongous amount of money they waste on politicians as salaries and allowances. Some of the ex-governors who are now senators take double pay. This is outside some allowances, cars and houses they corner for themselves as former governors. Some of the poor masses are left with nothing but N10,000 loans called Tradermoni.
The big politicians corner much of this money not to develop their areas but to engage in brazen electoral robbery. They buy votes and sometimes hire thugs and security agents to rig elections for them. Until we reform our electoral system such that the people’s will shall always prevail, we will continue to undergo political miseries.
From political miseries, social upheavals emanate. In this case, people no more have faith in government. They take the law into their hands. This is the case in Benue, Borno, Kaduna, and many other states in the North. In these states, life is short and brutish. A lunatic entered a mosque in New Zealand recently and shot up to 50 people dead. The whole world rose in condemnation. Many more people have lost their lives in these northern Nigerian states. Yet, not much noise is heard across the world. In Nigeria, mass killings have become a normal thing.
In the southern part of the country, armed robbery and kidnapping hold sway. Benin-Ore Expressway, especially between Ofosu in Ondo State and Okada in Edo State, is a major crisis point. A number of innocent Nigerians have fallen victim to heartless marauders there. The lucky ones part with huge sums of money as ransom. The unlucky ones get killed. I know somebody who narrowly escaped the kidnappers recently. The luck he had was that he was able to speak Hausa. His assailants, suspected to be Fulani herdsmen, miraculously let him off the hook after some days in their custody.
This same Ofosu to Okada is where luxury bus drivers protested last year over incessant deadly robberies. After the drivers’ protest last year, the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, and the police authorities visited the area and promised to tackle the menace. So, why do we keep having reports of kidnapping and robberies on that axis of evil? What does it take to station a crack team of security men there?
To be fair to the police authorities, I passed through that road last week. I saw some operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad at Okada. What I wonder about is how the herdsmen still strike in spite of the presence of these security agents. Or do they strike when the security men are on break? It would be good if the police hierarchy could withdraw some policemen at the numerous checkpoints in the East and deploy them at Ofosu-Okada, where they are most needed.
I was heartbroken when I saw the recent video of a young girl crying and lamenting the alleged killing of her father by kidnappers. According to the girl, the kidnappers operated Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the week they kidnapped her father unchallenged. Unfortunately, her father did not survive the ordeal. After many searches, they discovered his corpse somewhere in the bush. Can this girl and many others in her shoes easily overcome the trauma they were forced to go through in life?
The ironical and mysterious aspect of life in Nigeria is that we keep suffering and smiling, as the legendary Fela would sing. In 2011, a Gallup Poll classified Nigeria as the happiest place in the world. In 2018, the World Happiness Report classified the country as the 91st happiest in the world. What this means is that gloom is gradually replacing happiness on our faces. Things continue to go wrong, yet no concrete action is taken to put those things right.
Our common refrain is, “Only prayer will save this country.” But we forget that God created us and urged us to conquer our environment. God will not come down to tackle our problems for us. We need to take the bull by the horns and face our problems squarely.
President Buhari should lead the way by taking full charge of reforming our rotten system. So far, Osinbajo has been the one largely in the driving seat of our economy. He is a brilliant lawyer, no doubt. But he lacks the economic management acumen required to stimulate a comatose economy. Buhari should do away with nepotism and engage sound economists to take us out of the woods. He should also sack the security chiefs who have not been able to tackle the spate of insecurity in the country. It is only after these have been done that God will begin to listen to other prayer requests of ours.
First published in The Sun of Monday, April 8, 2019.